Johnson’s Deadline’s in the Ditch
After EU leaders agreed to a three-month extension to the Brexit deadline to 31 January 2020, Halloween Brexit has given way to midwinter elections. MPs voted to withhold approval of Johnson’s EU exit deal, seeking further time to scrutinise legislation, forcing him to go against his ‘do or die in a ditch’ campaign pledge and accept a further delay from Brussels. Johnson has since called a general election in hopes of increasing the Conservative majority needed to pass his new Withdrawal Agreement Bill. After some farcical proceedings in parliament, London eventually settled on Thursday 12 December 2019. Newspaper editors may have lost the symbolism of 31 October but the election result on Friday 13 will surely compensate.
Across the party spectrum, the election campaigns are firmly focused on Brexit. Johnson launched the Conservatives campaign under the slogan of “Get Brexit Done”. The party will seek to win a majority to support Johnson’s current deal and deliver Brexit (or, at least, EU exit). His campaign had a major boost this week following the Brexit Party’s announcement that its candidates will not run in seats won by the Conservatives in 2017 to avoid dividing the Leave-backing vote. Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn has announced their plans to renegotiate a “sensible” new Brexit deal within the next three months which would be put to the British public in a referendum within six months and would include an option to remain. Corbyn refused to say which side Labour would campaign on. From the side-lines the EU has repeated that the negotiations are final, but we’ve heard that before, and a Labour Brexit would involve significantly different red lines to Johnson’s. Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, and the Greens have formed a pro-remain alliance under the banner of ‘Unite to Remain’ in an attempt to increase the number of Remain MPs in parliament. Taking August’s Brecon and Radnorshire byelection as a template, they announced electoral pacts in 60 seats in England and Wales to allow a single pro-Remain candidate to take on the Conservatives, Brexit Party and Labour in these constituencies.
Rolling Cliff Edges off Dover
Once the campaign is over, Brexit-watchers can look forward to a series of rolling cliff-edge deadlines. If the UK leaves by 31 January 2020, the government will have just 11 months to negotiate everything from a data flow adequacy agreement to the future relationship with the EU all before 31 December 2020, the end of the transition period. With formal negotiations on the EU-Canada deal having taken five years, few think it’s feasible to conclude these negotiations by 31 December. But this decision must be made by 1 July 2020 to ask for a one-off, one- or two-year extension of the transition period, creating further time pressure on the government’s future negotiations. If a request is made, we could see months of wrangling to understand the terms on which the extension is granted.
So, 1232 days since the Brexit referendum and we’re only at the end of the beginning.